Manus Halligan appears

Trapped in a Shakespearean drama

Cavan actor lauded for role

A play broaching the topic of dementia on a dismal midweek night sounds like a tough sell.

And yet when the Celt speaks to actor Manus Halligan the day after, Lost Lear had just played the Townhall Theatre in Galway to a large crowd.

“Aw, it was fantastic, it sold very well there was about 150 people at it which was great of a Wednesday night,” reports the Bailieborough actor.

The reason for the Galwegian bums on seats is quite simply the excitement around this production from a group which has a growing list of cracking plays.

“It’s going extremely well. It was nominated for a few Irish Times Theatre Awards,” says Manus, who was the recipient of one of those nominations for best support actor.

The play’s main character is Joy a former actress who suffers from dementia, played by Venetia Bowe. Manus takes on the role of Liam, Joy’s carer. He employs a somewhat unusual approach.

“My method of caring for someone with dementia is, where they are at their most comfortable and at their most powerful and high status, we keep them in that world for their own good.”

He expands on this idea of care: “You might want to shake them and remind them of the world around them that they seem to have forgotten about, but actually the best thing to do is to actually agree and affirm whatever they think is right. Because if you try to correct them, they will get really confused and not understand why that they’re wrong, and it can be very distressing.”

The seed of the idea came from a visit by writer director Dan Colley to a nursing home to see an elderly relative. When he asked about the prominent displays of shop fronts of Dublin from the 1950s and ‘60s. Dan took that idea and wondered what would happen if the person was fully immersed in the past.

“So the conceit of the show is that Joy was an actress and she believes that she is back in her early 30s where she is rehearsing the role of King Lear. She constantly thinks she’s in a rehearsal room.

“She also maybe believes that I’m almost like director or co-star of hers in the show.”

In Joy’s production in her mind she plays both King Lear and the youngest of his three daughters, Cordelia. Manus assures that you don’t need to have read or seen Shakespeare’s King Lear to enjoy Lost Lear.

“I give a monologue at the very start of the play where I look out to the audience and I explain loosely, very casually - it can be quite funny - exactly what happens in King Lear.”

Without giving away too much her estranged son Conor arrives in the care home hoping for some resolution to the painful relationship he’s had with his mother.

“He comes to settle things with his mother in her old age,” explains Manus. “He comes in to find out that the only way he can communicate with her is through King Lear.

“I’m a kind of middle man, dealing with Joy but also trying to get Conor involved as well.

“There’s a lot of layers, and there’s also a lot of design elements,” he says of a production which uses audio visuals in very clever ways to help establish the mindsets of the characters.

This is his sixth production with writer/director Dan Colley.

“Working with Dan is such a treat, because you never know what the final production is going to be like. There’s no set play, no final script until two weeks before opening night - there’ll be loose scripts and drafts, but it changes so much, it really is a joy to work with him.”

What would you say to someone who’s intrigued but thinks Lost Lear sounds a bit heavy?

“It’s very funny. We get it from people who are family carers who have looked after their husbands or wives, who say that it was great that the play got across how people with dementia can also be quite funny.

“And the relationship between Joy and Liam the carer - we have a very bubbly relationship to each other and can say off handed comments to each other that the audience can hear that is really funny.”

Lost Lear comes to the Ramor theatre, Virginia on Saturday, November 18.